Jul 27, 2018
Even anti-nuclear governments are turning to nuclear power to deal with a record-breaking heatwave, which has increased demand for electricity to power air conditioning around the world.
To meet rising electricity demand, South Korea’s anti-nuclear government announced last week that it would increase the number of operating nuclear reactors from 14 to 19, even re-starting two reactors that were scheduled to be closed this summer for maintenance.
Anti-nuclear Germany has had to rely heavily on its remaining nuclear plants and its coal plants even during daylight hours when Germany’s solar panels are at maximum production. The reason? Very little wind.
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In June, Taiwan’s anti-nuclear government was forced to restart a closed nuclear reactor in order to meet demand. Last year, the island nation suffered its worst power outage ever when seven million homes were left without electricity.
In anticipation of high electricity demand during the summer, the Japanese government accelerated the restarting of nuclear reactors closed after Fukushima. Nuclear capacity has nearly doubled since March.
The reliance on nuclear power plants by anti-nuclear governments shows the limits of renewables and conservation
After the 2011 Fukushima panic, Japan shuttered its nuclear plants and invested heavily in conservation and efficiency. The limits of those efforts were felt this week as sales of air conditioners by a leading retailer increased 70 percent compared to last year.
California has spent billions on conservation and efficiency programs but found itself this week pleading with residents to reduce energy consumption during the heatwave. “Plan somewhere to go if you lose power,” a National Weather Service expert warned.
California’s solar has been of limited use because as reported the San Diego Union-Tribune, “solar production falls off when the sun goes down and energy users come home from work, turn on their air conditioners and use appliances that suck up a lot of power, such as washer/dryers.”
And solar panels produce less electricity in heatwaves. "According to the manufacture standards, a 25 °C (77 °F) temperature indicates the peak of the optimum temperature range of solar panels," solar experts say. "It is when solar cells are able to absorb sunlight with maximum efficiency."
"Summer temperatures that can reach 50C, combined with the build-up of dust, can reduce the efficiency of a photovoltaic panel by more than half" in hot climates, reported The Times of London last year.
Wholesale electricity prices in California rose to $1000 per megawatt-hour — a whopping 30 times more expensive than last year’s average price.
South Korea’s news media have criticized the government for underestimating electricity demand in order to justify its anti-nuclear policies.
“Such failures in predicting power demand suggest the government arbitrarily lowered its estimated demand to back up its logic for phasing out nuclear plants,” editorialized a South Korean newspaper.
The irony is that many anti-nuclear governments justify their policies as addressing climate change, which may be contributing to the heatwave.
“This is what the future looks like for us,” a Los Angeles utility spokesperson warned. “We are seeing real extremes in the way of what we’re having to deal with.”
“The government’s rush to phase out nuclear increased electricity from plants using coal and natural gas,” the South Korean newspaper editorialize, “which pose serious threats to the environment.”
Will the heatwave serve as a wake-up call to anti-nuclear governments?
Taiwan may be the first test case. It is set to close a nuclear plant in December, but memories of this summer’s heat and last summer’s blackouts may prevent that.
California’s anti-nuclear government is moving ahead with plans to close Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which provides nine percent of the state’s electricity, by 2025.
In California, electricity prices have risen five times faster than in rest of the U.S. since 2011, when the state began expanding the deployment of renewables and closed a nuclear plant.
Cost increases even in normal conditions are worsened by the loss of nuclear; it stands to reason that during severe events such as this summer’s heat waves, cost increases will be especially severe.
The heatwave forced even anti-nuclear groups like Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which supports closing Diablo Canyon, to acknowledge that “Demand for power [is] only going up.”
“Besides the fact that utilities must serve 50 million more Americans than they did just 20 years ago,” editorialized EDF, “each of us relies more on electricity. Whether it’s our iPhones and laptops or the cloud services we connect them to, our personal and business lives are completely dependent on power and a reliable grid."
And that's not to mention the accelerating transition to electric cars, whose demand for electricity could grow 300-fold between 2016 and 2040.